Disgaea 3 was a difficult game
to enjoy. That's not to say it wasn't a fun romp through the Netherworld, but there was something off about the game, I finally figured it out while playing Disgaea 4. It's the segmented story of Mao that kept Disgaea 3 from being a great game, doing side-stories rather than focus on the task at hand. Thankfully NIS went back to basics with Disgaea 4, as the story of Valvatorez and his plan to overthrow a corrupt government (Corrupternment? Okay... I guess) is one of the most enjoyable in the series. The shiny new HD graphics are a great complement to a game that rivals the original Disgaea in terms of storytelling. I honestly have not enjoyed
a Disgaea title this much since the original, which does not bode well for me, and gamers like me who will invest an insane amount of hours in to this game, especially with the holiday season looming right around the corner.
First thing that's going to grab you about Disgaea 4 is going to be the visuals. The character sprites have been redone and now support a much higher resolution and look a lot sharper than what the PS2 and PSP games had to offer. Even the difference between Disgaea 3 and Disgaea 4 is quite staggering, which shows that the few years they took to develop this game did not go to waste. But if you're the type of gamer that wants their game to look a little more retro, there is an option to use the old style of sprites, which is a surprising and welcome feature. The stages are still fairly plain, with only special events spicing things up every now and again, along with some random set pieces that show up from time to time. Item world trips can be a bit of a visual bore, while colorful they don't really seem to do anything to take advantage of the PS3. Special effects for attacks are as over the top as ever, but even those feel a bit lackluster, perhaps due to being stuff we've all seen before.
Tenpei Sato has once again provided the music for Disgaea, and this time around it feels quite epic and appropriate for the game. It's his normal sound, lots of sweeping orchestral work, and as always fits the mood quite well. In a welcome change you can adjust music for the item world (where you can spend hours at a time), but at a high price, but it's still a nice add-on. Voice acting is a pretty standard affair, and as usual there is a dual language option, which is always appreciated. But really, people like me who are here for the gameplay don't really come for the fancy visuals, we just want to play the numbers hell that is Disgaea, and experience the wacky story and NIS has delivered in that regard.
Our hero, and vampire, Valvatorez, was once known as a great tyrant in the Netherworld. Over the years he has lost his power due to a promise he made to a woman who died before his eyes, to not drink human blood, as a result he has grown quite weak and explains why he's a lowly Prinny Instructor. He is accompanied by his subordinate Fenrich, a werewolf who has sworn total allegiance to his Lord and will never deviate from that path. Despite Fenrich's repeated attempts to get Valvatorez to break his promise held to a long since deceased girl, Valvatorez remains steadfast, believing in the power of promises, and strangely, sardines.
The sudden influx of Prinnies in the Netherworld has Valvatorez concerned that something is up with the Corrupternment, and is even more reinforced by Fuka, a deceased girl who hasn't turned in to a Prinny upon and death believes she is not dead, and feels the poor Prinnies are being mistreated. Believing the President of the Netherworld is up to no good it's up to Valvatorez and his growing rag-tag group of demons and monsters to overthrow the Corrupternment, in a story that likes to poke fun at serious and current events, while putting its own demonic spin on things. Thankfully this time around the story is a lot more direct, without much in terms of side-stories, as all the events involving the characters are tied together in some way shape or form and they simply stem from the main story, rather than branch out to other parts of the story that go nowhere. The ending of the game does play a little bit too much of the 'one more chapter' gimmick as you head to more and more outlandish locations to save the Netherworld and the Earth, but it was enjoyable throughout thanks to the wonderful cast of characters. DESCO is a personal favorite of mine, a human made monster that is destined to be a 'Final Boss' and is constantly seeking the approval of Fuka to do it.
There is so much to get yourself lost with in Disgaea 4. The way your characters can grow, to how you level them up, to how you share your creations with the world. It's actually quite amazing how much content NIS managed to cram in to this game. You've got the item world where you can level an individual item to boost the stats, which is a mainstay for the series, but now you've also got the world creator, where you can create stages and share them over the PlayStation Network. Hell if you don't like the home base that the game provides you with, you can unlock an option to redesign that. You can also create a pirate band that will potentially invade the games of other users on the PSN, and will either fight with or against other players. Feeling a bit more coercive? You can send one of your units to PSN and they can randomly appear in the Dark Senate of another user, where players hope to pass bills to create new units, or extort funds, or build new buildings to use while you take over the netherworld, and if people are desperate for your votes they can bribe your mobile senator, who will bring the item back for your use. Your senator also has the ability to cause havok in the Dark Senate, where they might take our random senators seated near them, or they might fuse with other senators to create a sort of 'super vote,' which can really throw a wrench in to things. Here's the problem with all of that though, it's mostly superfluous. I constantly found myself wondering if I really needed to do any of that stuff, and then proceeded to brute force my way through the game with the occasional trip to the item world.
Those familiar with Disgaea's strategic role-playing-game trappings will find that little has changed over the years. The geo-blocks, multicharacter combos, Item World, and even the Dark Senate have received little changes and are immediately recognizable. While it's nice that things are similar to past games, it'd be nice if NIS decided to shake things up a little more. The additions to the Dark Senate and building your regime are nice new additions, but the core gameplay remains fundamentally unchanged. Instead the game is more about how you can tweak your characters to get them as powerful as possible, through the use of the character world or by the changes made to the Magichange system from Disgaea 3. Previously you could have a monster turn in to a weapon for a character to use, mow you're allowed to merge two monsters of the same type to fuse together and create a giant version of themselves, and you can take it a step further to have that giant monster become a weapon for another character to wield.
It's a tough position to be in, reviewing Disgaea 4, because the game as it stands is really great, even with some of the character classes cut (a minor quibble I know), and some of the gameplay elements rehashed. But after this game, I don't see much that can be done to improve any further, and it runs the risk of becoming really stagnant, which kind of kills a game that you're meant to play over and over again. Like previous Disgaea games there are multiple endings to encourage you to play the game again and again, and after wringing a good forty hours out of the first playthrough I can easily say that it's possible to get over a hundred hours out of this game and still not see everything, let alone get a character to level 9999. You can also tell this is an NIS game by the quality of the localization, from the story to the items descriptions that you've come to expect, this game has that dark sense of humor present in every facet of the game.
With Disgaea 4 NIS has definitely set a new bar for themselves with this latest entry in the series. It gets back to the feeling of the original Disgaea but with the latest technology to make the number-hell styled gameplay feel fresh and new. Unfortunately underneath the hood it is still the same old Disgaea game that I've played on the PS2 and PSP, it just looks like it has better window dressing and a few new ways to tweak some arbitrary numbers. That's not to say that Disgaea 4 is bad, in fact quite the contrary, it's a ton of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed every hour that I spent with this game. Any fan of the Disgaea series will immensely enjoy this game, and if anyone is new to the series, know that you are picking up the best game in the series thus far. But as I said before, NIS is really going to have to shake this formula up a bit if they want to make Disgaea 5.